Politics and film festivals tend to intersect as the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival emphatically attests.

In the lead up to Turkish municipal elections held in March of 2019 the current Mayor of Antalya, Muhittin Böcek, promised voters that, if he won, he would change back the format of the storied film festival held in the resort city on the country’s Southern coast. 

At that time within Turkey’s film community the fate of the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, which started in 1964, had become “not (just) the talk of the town; but the talk of the country,” says Turkish film industry veteran Ahmet Boyacıoğlu, who now heads the event in tandem with its artistic director Basak Emre. They were appointed by Böcek.

That’s because the previous two years had seen the local film industry increasingly boycott the Antalya fest, which had been radically reshaped under the previous politically-appointed management, which scrapped its national competition and other sections showcasing Turkish cinema in what the fest’s new toppers consider a misguided attempt to make the fest more international.

So their first move, for the 2019 edition, was to reinstate those sections and and reinforce the fest’s original identity. This is also reflected in Antalya’s 2020 national competition lineup that provides an opportunity to take the pulse of current Turkish cinema.

Standouts include “Ghosts” (pictured), a first work by Azra Deniz Okyay (“Hayaletler”), recent winner of the top prize at the Venice Critics’ Week. It’s a drama set over the course of a day during which there is a nationwide power surge, which sees four characters from very different walks of life crossing paths in a gentrifying Istanbul neighborhood.

“I wanted to tell a metaphoric story of a country sinking into darkness and I used a big power surge to tell it,” Okyay recently told Variety.

Another first work in the section is “Weasel” by Orçun Benli, in which the protagonist named Ayhan gives up his job in the Turkish police force and starts a new life in a forest cottage where he does battle “with the weasel that has begun to pester him,” reads the film’s synopsis.

There is also “In the Shadows,” a sci-fi feature by Erdem Tepegoz, whose 2012 debut “Particle” was praised on the international festival circuit. “Shadows” is set in an apocalyptic Anatolia, where the working class is the only class left and rudimental technology rules. A loyal mine worker named Zait begins to have doubts about the system he lives in and rebels.

The Turkish features competition also comprises “Flashdrive” by veteran Turkish-Cypriot auteur Dervis Zaim (“Shadows and Faces”), which revolves around the true story a Syrian military officer who smuggles thousands of photographs documenting violence perpetrated by the Syrian regime again civilians and also members of the opposition who have fled the country. Turkey hosts over 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

Projects at the Antalya Film Forum co-production platform, which will take place online this year, also provide an insight into the state of Turkish cinema.

“There is a tendency within the new generation of (local) filmmakers of criticizing different aspects of conservatism in Turkish society,” says Antalya Forum chief Olena Yershova. The works on display comprise “stories about violence against women, stories against patriarchal law, against young marriages,” and also “strong LGBT stories, bold family dramas and a beautiful sport documentary drama about synchronized swimmers,” she adds.

Yershova also points out that they are trying to support gender diversity and are pleased that there are 11 female
directors and 21 female producers out of 29 projects being presented to prospective partners.

She also notes that despite the country’s economic crisis Turkish cinema is in pretty good shape and the projects have strong international potential.